Sunday, 7 September 2014

2014 Bottlemart Smiddy Challenge - Day 8 - Charters Towers to Townsville

Stats by David 'Stinky' Colahan
Distance: 150.68 kms
Elapsed Time: 8.13
Ride time: 5.28
Ave Speed: 27.3 kph
Climbing: 548 metres
Temps: Min 12 /Max 34. 

Schindler’s List by Megz Wallace & Jarrod Covey
67 Kangaroos, 34 Bags of bones, 5 birds, 3 bad smells, 1 cow.

By Matt Marshall

Enriching life. Enriching lives.

Among the many themes of the 2014 Bottlemart Smiling for Smiddy Challenge – this sentiment about the Smiddy riders and road crew enriching the lives of the local communities we pass through delivered by pastor Donna Muston during our first community dinner in Thangool on Day 3, and the return sentiments by Maria Smiddy that we in turn are enriched by their generosity, hospitality and spirit, helps to sum up many of the magical qualities of a Smiddy Challenge adventure.

As weary riders & road crew sat in the hall of Thangool Race Club, eyeing a ‘ridonkulous’ 241km Day 4 route after 600-plus kilometres over the opening three days, we were heartened by the buzz in the room and the hand-crafted gifts, laminated and left at every table setting in the hall, drawn by the children of Thangool State School, willing us on. An example was a pink and yellow drawing from Cassidy in Year 2 – proclaiming “Exterminate Cancer”. It, and many more similar messages of encouragement for a group travelling 1600km through heat and wind to distribute over $300,000 to Mater Research, spent the remainder of the week in the back jersey pocket of our riders and served as yet another reminder for us to dig deep.

The smiles of the kids, the welcoming arms and hearts of these communities, the anticipation and excitement of these towns and their gratitude for the way in which we stand up to cancer are unforgettable and often unexpected memories our riders and road crew take away from this one-in-a-million experience. The locals take equal heart and inspiration from our efforts – and their future generation benefit from our presence – thanks to riders such as Iain ‘Donkey’ Cory taking the time to write messages such as ‘Dream big and you can achieve anything’ or ‘follow your heart’ to the primary schoolers clamming for autographs in the playgrounds at Monto, Thangool and Emerald.

The unique, life-affirming journey that is the Smiddy Challenge ride showed its true colours before a pedal stroke was made this year with young Sarah Jameson – daughter of 2013 Challenge riders Kim and Karl – handing our handmade bracelets to all the riders prior our grand depart 8 days ago; before the lionhearted man that is Marty Hegarty spoke of his pain at losing 9-year-old son Declan to cancer as he bravely presented a $5,000 cheque to Smiling for Smiddy on behalf of Project Declan.

If the riders needed any extra motivation, and they didn’t, Marty’s words gave it to them there and then. Thank you Marty. But that was the morning of Day 1, before a kilometre had been ridden. This is now ‘Day 9’, the morning after our 1600km journey has been completed – with the ‘Smiddy Blues’ set to kick in as riders and road crew say farewell to each other and begin to crave again the special mateship and experience that has been ours for the past 8 days.

For now – a recap of the final day that was a sunny and perfect Day 8 of the 2014 Bottlemart Smiddy Challenge – before we indulge in a top-8 highlight reel to sum up this unforgettable and soul-enriching 8-day journey.

Day 8 dawned once again with beautiful sunny skies as riders unzipped their swags on the green, green grass of the Charters Towers school of the air and smelt a BBQ breakfast being prepared in their honour. The air of excitement was electric as riders donned their lycra for the final time this week and anticipated the much dreamed about, much craved-for finish line at Strand Park later that afternoon –when loved ones and an intense sense of accomplishment hard to explain to non-Challenge team members both awaited us.

We enjoyed a hot breakfast, again kindly cooked up by John Clarke and his dedicated team of Rotarians, and focused on the job at hand – mindful that this is an 8-day Challenge, not a 7-day Challenge, and that everyone in the team was hell-bent on ensuring we arrived safe and sound to Stand Park together. And so our focuses turned to the rider in front, and those behind us, to ensure a smooth final journey toward Townsville.

A pressing head wind greeted us, but it takes more than that to dampen the spirits of a Smiddy Challenge peloton, and at morning tea – after our road crew had prepared their final feast – they again delivered their ‘war cry’ proclaiming that Smiddy riders are the BEST. As riders we know it is the road crew, not us, who is truly AWESOME and this 8-day journey would not be half as rewarding if not for them and their beaming smiles and positive attitudes throughout. To David, Maria, Bec, Kay Kay, Glen, Killer, Marie, Terry, Sammi Jo, Vanessa, Stemmy, Mia, Kevvy, Joe and Julian – a heartfelt thanks for everything you did for us. You guys ROCK.

To Woodstock we continued with the CWA ladies once again turning on a spread worthy of royalty for our final lunch together. These rural ladies sure can put on a feast, and many a rider exited the wooden hall clutching their tummies… even without sampling the Pavlova served up for dessert. Smiddy founder Mark ‘Sharky’ Smoothy then addressed the riders with a heartfelt message that his mojo was back after a taxing 2013 campaign and that this was his most enjoyable Challenge ride for the past 5 years… hinting at an extra-special surprise for the riders at Strand Park. A selection of past riders know this can mean only one thing… the third ‘chuddle’ in Smiddy history was on the cards.

The riders then put their heads down to ensure we remained on time for our loved ones, punching out a difficult 38km into the wind before arriving at The Sun Hotel for a team photo under the Bottlemart drive thru. To our major sponsor Bottlemart, supporting our program since 2007, a massive thanks. Likewise to our program’s other major partners Professional Cleaning Services and Sealy; and our many other sponsors. It was a buzz to see the Hahn Super Dry promotion, with $1 from every carton sold in September donated at Smiddy courtesy of the generous support of Lion, on full display as we made our way through the bottle-o in our cleats and made our way into the hotel for light refreshments before our final 11km stroll down to Townsville’s and Smiddy’s equivalent of the Champs Elysees for our grand finish.

As we turned down the Champs Elysees… the Townsville riders were encouraged to the front of the peloton as the roar of our supporters grew louder and louder. In a wave of emotion and elation, we were suddenly riding over the green grass of Strand Park amid a tunnel of supporters bearing signs, balloons and loud cheers. We hugged and kissed each other and our loved ones and the tears flowed. These were tears of joy, relief, pride and many other raw emotions laid bare by a Smiddy Challenge ride. Among them, embraces full of love and admiration for each other and moments that define lifelong friendships. It’s hard to put into words how very special this moment at Strand Park is. Suffice to say – it’s a feeling every member of the 2014 team deserved richly, and a feeling you’d like everyone you care about to experience at least once in their lifetime – such is its power.

Another enormous Smiddy huddle ensued at Strand Park, followed by the aforementioned ‘chuddle’. As David and Maria Smiddy are the nucleus of everything we do – they embrace before being surrounded by the riders and road crew in a huddle representative of the family that is the 2014 Challenge crew. Among the finish line celebrations, as our riders had their beards shaven off, another example of Smiddy spirit emerged as Yas’s ‘Save or Shave’ fundraising idea took a dramatic twist when a $1400 donation by fellow rider Zane saw Yas’s hair, ponytails and all, taken to with the clippers for a crew-cut and Sinead O’Connor-lookalike makeover. Meanwhile Matty’s hairy legs were also in the firing line with Sammi Jo applying the hot wax, and several riders ripping off the wax strips, as another $1400 was raised for cancer research at Mater courtesy of the riding group and the Clermont community.

Zane, who alongside Row and Alicia shared their own Smiddy stories at dinner, was later outbid by Jarrod in a pulsating auction conducted by ‘first-time auctioneer’ Row for the one of a kind framed Smiddy jersey, signed up the entire 2014 team, as it fetched a $6,100 donation. In another shining example of Smiddy spirit – this jersey was duly gifted by Jarrod to fellow rider Claire Bear – who completed her journey to Townsville this year alongside her Smiddy family in a cap dedicated to her larger than life Dad, Jeff.  Claire departed our ride from Belyando last year to be by her Dad’s bedside during the final days of his melanoma battle but returned to complete her journey this year – with her mum and fiancĂ©, Andy, there to see her at the finish line alongside over 25 of the 50 riders hit hard by Claire Bear’s early exit last year – return riders and several 2013 riders throughout the crowd. Fittingly – Claire was presented with the ‘Spirit’ jersey as she, Jarrod and every other rider and road crew in the 2014 team, truly embody everything that is so great about Smiling for Smiddy.

With our efforts to fundraise in excess of $300,000 and raise significant awareness for cancer research and patient care at Mater – we are truly making a difference for future generations. That’s what our school visits are all about. That’s what Smiddy is all about. Tasmanian-based rider and father of four, Jason Overton, who five days earlier shared his gut-wrenching battle with cancer and chemotherapy, was awarded the mateship jersey. He carried his daughter in his arms to the stage and the symbolism of what Jas had just done for his children and their future together, was crystal clear to everyone in the room. Well done Jas.

The family values of Smiddy were again strongly represented in the Teamwork jersey winner as Kevvy, AKA King of the Gnomes – our trusty and long-time rear support vehicle driver, was handed this jersey alongside Stemmy and Mia – who in addition to steering us safely to Townsville from the front vehicle with beaming smiles, a faultless work ethic and a camera poking out of the passenger window for much of the week, shared an unforgettable life experience with their son, Joshua Tree, one of four riders in the group taught by Jeff Schneider and keen to honour his memory. One final presentation, courtesy of Maria, was made to ‘Maverick’ – the new tag for young Jayden ‘Brick’ Swarbrick, our youngest rider who confessed he has never seen Top Gun. He and Iceman, Dad Ian, are leading a reunion on the New Zealand Smiddy Challenge next March with the father-son duo, David, Maria, Dr Phil, Ian and Zane all on board and hot on the recruitment trail.

That concludes the final day of the 2014 Bottlemart Smiddy Challenge with the team settling on two well-versed words over the past eight days to describe this life-affirming journey – CLASSY and AWESOME. Congratulations to all on joining the Smiddy family for keeps…here are some quick highlights:

Top 8 Highlights:

1.      Mateship. As Row Foster said in his speech on the final night, the unbreakable friendship bonds born out of the tragedy of Adam Smiddy’s passing stands among many of his towering legacies. Fittingly, father and son, Ian and Jayden Swarbrick, wore the ‘Mateship’ category jersey on the final day as they completed their second successive Challenge together. Their special bond served as inspiration and hope for all riders – especially those in the group grieving for their Dad or son lost to cancer. Mateship abounded in old and new friends within the group.

2.     Spirit. The examples of Smiddy spirit have been countless. Among them was Jarrod’s and Zane’s gestures, mentioned above, and Hell raising a collection among all the riders as a gesture of support for Mark Turner in caring for his son William. There was Joe our awesome mechanic from AvantiPlus The Valley – sacrificing his riding time and removing parts from his own bike to assist others. There was Terry getting around with bottles of Coke at every stop, refilling the cups of the riders – the kind of guy you want topping up your wine glass as it never runs dry. There was Bec showing up just days after burying her grandfather. Zane just weeks after farewelling his Dad. Jack getting himself on the bike every day. Hannah aiming up and ignoring her obvious discomfort. The dual David’s ‘getting it’ and becoming Smiddy riders. Sue Cope and Deb and Robbie Coward adding to our experience. Paddy jumping into the van on the final day after puncturing, so as not to hold up the group. Krista’s beautiful nature. The determination of many of our quiet achievers – Dan, Katja, Kimmy and the David’s. Princess Fiona’s big heart to punch on when she went into her swamp (hurt locker). Gleeso, Tom Tom, Shrek, Paul, Booba and Co. for keeping their big chain rings on a leash to keep the group together. Pete, Iain and Garath keeping us smiling on those long, hard days… these are just a few.

3.     Teamwork. That magical Smiddy moment when 50 riders each shelve their individual goal to ride 1600km as their primary focus, instead shifting it to the 49 riders around them to become Smiddy riders not cyclists - happened very early in the trip and for 8 days we witnessed a TEAM in every sense of the word pushing, encouraging, supporting and willing each other through. The same comraderie was evident in the road crew, who were seamless in getting morning tea sorted in less than 2mins after tearing past the group 5kms out from smoko, and within the Smiddy team from Mater.

4.      Community. Mark and Desley Gaedtke and the showgrounds in Nanango; Lions in Eidsvold; St Therese’s in Monto; everyone in Thangool & Biloela behind the efforts of Don and Di Morris and ‘Bathy’; Lynlea and Ono O’Neill, Don Forbes from Village on Blain and all our supporters in Blackwater; Jackie and John Martin, Maurie and Roger Vine and the community of Clermont; Belyando Crossing; John Clarke and the Rotarians from Charters and Mundingburra, cooking up a BBQ for us at Strand Park, and of course our awesome billets for putting us up, showering, laundering and replenishing us in mind, body and spirit.

5.      Courage. As Crackers and Claire Bear each articulated – ‘we all have our own battles’ – and the courage to stand tall in the face of adversity on the bike on days such as Day 4, Day 2 and Day 7 – and off the bike for 8 whole days and nights - was again evident among the 2014 Smiddy Challenge team. Courage bears itself in many forms. There were countless examples of physical courage from riders such as Tracey, Ness, Yas, Geoff, Ray, Ian and Hannah. Equally were the emotional and moral courage of riders such as Jason, Coach, Crackers, Toto, Jarrod, Garath, Zane, Claire and Archie, who just hours after sharing his story on night 7, heard the news his beloved aunt had passed – and such carrying a heavy heart under the ‘Teamwork’ jersey he deservedly rode into his hometown wearing on the final day.

6.      Laughs & Tears. Flowing in equal measures, alongside that great sense of contentment that is usual for a Smiddy Challenge event, and captured beautifully in the slideshow at the ‘Finish Line Dinner’ which recapped our 8-day adventure. We laughed until we cried. We cried until we laughed. Jack – tossing out any filter - had us and the local communities in stitches on several occasions while Mel and MegZ spent much of the entire week cackling away and Dr Phil entertained us all with lots of pirate-themed jokes.

7.      David and Maria Smiddy. The nucleus of the Smiling for Smiddy family and upholders of the intrinsic family values we hold so dear. Outstanding parents & outstanding human beings – what a wonderful example they set in their lives for Adam and Paul – and now their grandchildren Jake and soon-to-arrive granddaughter who will be spoiled by a Nona with the best hugs in the trans-Tasman. What a humbling experience and honour it is for everyone within the Smiling for Smiddy community to represent them and Adam.

8.      Smiddy family. This very special community spirit and value set was evident among riders, road crew, supporters & communities from Brisbane to Townsville and everywhere in between as we were surprised with friendly faces, signs, cheers, toots of the horn, donations and kind thank yous – including another generous gift from Kevvy’s ‘parents’ in Dululu – and captured in the surprise slideshow our riders enjoyed in Clermont with photos and messages of support from their children, partners, parents and families. We are Smiddy and very proudly so.

Smiddy! Smiddy! Smiddy!

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